Cocktails with coworkers after a long day. A six-pack of beer during the game or at the beach.
A bottle of wine at dinner. A binge drinking session can be a completely different experience based on the context, and for that reason, it’s not always easy to recognize when just “having a drink or two” becomes a binge drinking session and potentially a health concern.
One of the most common patterns of alcohol abuse is binge drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Defined as a pattern of alcohol ingestion that adds up to a blood alcohol concentration level in the drinker that is 0.08 percent or higher, binge drinking often occurs among women when four or more drinks are ingested and among men when five or more drinks are ingested in around two hours. Comparatively, moderate drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as one drink a day and no more than seven per week for women, and two drinks or fewer per day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.
Binge drinking is extremely harmful to the drinker’s health. Between 2006 and 2010, it is estimated that an average of 88,000 people lost their lives every year due to alcohol-related issues, adding up to a potential loss of 2.5 million years of life annually, according to a report published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy.
Specifically, binge drinking may contribute to a number of health problems that can lead to the development of chronic illness or directly cause a serious or fatal event or medical emergency.
Possible health concerns connected to binge drinking include:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Decreased ability to manage underlying medical issues and/or mental health symptoms
- Accidental injury (e.g., drowning, falls, burns, car accident, etc.)
- Purposeful injury (e.g., homicide, assault, rape, etc.)
- Heart problems, including stroke and high blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Damage to cognitive function
- Risky choices including unprotected sex that leads to STD or unexpected pregnancy
- Miscarriage or baby born underweight, with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or stillborn
Though it is possible to be dependent upon alcohol and also to struggle with binge drinking, most binge drinkers are not physically dependent upon alcohol. However, alcohol abuse is just as likely as alcoholism to decrease the drinker’s level of physical and mental function, contribute to the development of chronic disease, and lessen quality of life.
Harms caused by alcohol abuse, including binge drinking, include increased risk of:
- Difficulty maintaining responsibilities at work and home
- Driving after drinking in any amount
- Drinking while performing activities that could become dangerous to oneself or others as a result of decreased performance ability
- Becoming a victim of harm or perpetrating assault or harm on another person
- Legal issues caused by poor choices or accidents that occur while under the influence
- Continuing to drink despite an increase in alcohol-related negative consequences
- Chance of alcohol dependency
Dependency upon alcohol may additionally cause the following issues:
- Compulsive use of alcohol
- Cravings for alcohol
- Continued drinking behaviors despite the harms it causes to oneself and others
- Inability to stop drinking despite a genuine effort to abstain
- About 92 percent of excessive drinkers engage in binge drinking.
- College-aged young people are often presumed to be the most likely population to engage in binge drinking behaviors, but about 70 percent of binge drinking sessions involve people over the age of 26.
- Underage drinkers very often binge drink. In fact, 90 percent of alcohol ingested by those under the age of 21 is ingested during a binge. Additionally, more than 50 percent of all alcohol consumed by American adults is in the form of binge drinking as well.
- About one out of every six Americans over the age of 18 reports engaging in binge drinking sessions about four times each month and ingested about eight drinks per session.
- Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are the age group most likely to engage in binge drinking, but those over the age of 65 are more likely to binge drink more often than average, about five or six times each month.
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol is reported by binge drinkers 14 times more often than by those who do not binge drink.
- Twice as many men report binge drinking behaviors as compared to women.
- Higher income is associated with higher rates of binge drinking as compared to households with an annual income of less than $75,000.
Not only is alcohol expensive for the buyer; it’s expensive for everyone – the drinker’s family, community, and the country at large. Drinkers who are not mindful of their personal cost of alcohol may negatively impact their family’s ability to pay the monthly bills, much less save for college, retirement, and unexpected emergencies. It’s not uncommon for binge drinkers to struggle financially – sometimes facing bankruptcy and foreclosure – leaving little leftover to cover the cost of necessary treatment services.
Additionally, in 2006, drinking cost the country about $223.5 billion – an average of about $1.90 per alcoholic beverage – a financial loss incurred due to associated health care costs, increased crime rates and expenses associated with addressing the problem, lost productivity in the workplace, and more, according to a report published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
It’s not uncommon for people to believe that they are drinking a “normal” amount when they are actually engaging in binge drinking behaviors on a regular basis. A drink or two with appetizers, a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, and an Irish coffee or liqueur with dessert is enough to add up to a binge drinking session – or simply sharing a couple of bottles of wine over a long lunch with clients or friends.
Similarly, the definition of “a single drink” is often unclear, contributing to many people actually drinking multiple drinks when they believe they are having just one. According to the NIAAA, a standard drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces of beer that is 5 percent alcohol by volume
- 5 ounces of wine that is 12 percent alcohol by volume
- 8 ounces of malt liquor that is 7 percent alcohol by volume
- 1.5 ounces of liquor that is 40 percent alcohol by volume
Thus, any drink that includes a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor that has a higher alcohol content than 40 percent by volume is technically more than one drink. Similarly, when a shot glass is filled to the brim rather than the line marker, it amounts to almost two standard drinks, and if a cocktail contains multiple types of alcohol or a wine glass is filled to the top or refilled before it is empty, it is not just one “drink” but two or more. In this way, many people may believe that they have only had a drink or two but have actually inadvertently engaged in a binge that can contribute to life-threatening accidents, behavioral choices, or disorders.
Changing the Tide
Though binge drinking is an exceedingly prevalent behavior in the United States, there are efforts being made on many fronts with the goal of decreasing the behavior and its related harms. Some interventions include:
- Increasing taxes on alcohol as well as the base price
- Cutting back on the number of alcohol purveyors in any one region
- Holding parents and homeowners responsible for the negative consequences of underage drinkers who ingest alcohol on their property
- Holding alcohol sellers responsible for the negative behaviors of patrons who drink on their premises
- Limiting the hours when it is legal to sell alcohol
- Increased enforcement of current laws regulating the use of alcohol, especially driving under the influence
- Increased screening for potential alcohol abuse problems among patients who seek medical attention for illness or injury that are or may be related to the use or abuse of alcohol
- Increased requirement of alcohol abuse and addiction treatment among offenders who are arrested for behaviors connected to alcohol use
Connecting With Treatment
If you struggle with binge drinking or any alcohol-related behavior and are unable to stop drinking despite the risks and costs, there are a number of treatment services that can help. Some options include:
- Detox: Though not everyone who binge drinks is physically dependent upon alcohol, if physical withdrawal symptoms occur when the person stops drinking, medical detox may help.
- Medication: There are a number of medications approved for use in the treatment of alcohol use disorders to aid in the management of withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Traditional therapy: Personal cognitive and behavioral therapies as well as group therapies including 12-step meetings provide the foundation for alcohol recovery.
- Alternative therapy: A range of experiential therapies are available that can engage recovery on artistic, physical, and interpersonal levels, allowing for unique ways of exploring experience and possibility in recovery.
- Holistic treatments: Yoga, nutritional choices, herbs, and other treatments can augment a well-rounded alcohol treatment program.
- Aftercare: Continued engagement with treatments and therapies can help the person to remain sober for a lifetime.
Contact Orlando Recovery today to learn more about your options in alcohol treatment services.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.